Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ top pitching prospect who starts Thursday at 10:05 PM for AAA Las Vegas, has been a hot button topic for the last few months. First, there were those who wanted him to crack the opening day rotation even before Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana got hurt (that was never happening due to the Mets needing to secure an extra year of service time). Then, fans started going nuts after holes in the rotation opened – demanding for Wheeler to be called up. Now, fans are starting to worry about Wheeler’s first four AAA starts of the year.
Wheeler struggled badly during his first two AAA starts, though it was later revealed that he was pitching with a blister on the middle finger of his right hand. So, those two starts should be thrown out the window. Since then, Wheeler has had one very good start and one mediocre one where he walked six batters. Based on those two starts, there are people who want the Mets to vault Rafael Montero over Zack Wheeler on the depth chart (meaning Montero would skip AAA after four starts above A ball). They say Montero is a pitcher, while Wheeler is a thrower. They say Montero is more major league ready. Here’s a brief history lesson from the long ago land of Buffalo, circa 2012:
A young hurler named Matt Harvey was there, struggling with his control and sporting an ERA in the high 3′s. When Harvey learned he was close to being called up (and with Mets brass in attendance), he tossed one of his worst starts of the year. Mets fans were concerned. They wondered what was wrong with Harvey. Overall for Buffalo in 2012, Harvey had an ERA of 3.68. Over 110 innings, he walked 48 batters. He was far from dominant. At the end of July, despite not mastering AAA, Harvey was called up to the Mets. Everyone has seen what’s happened since.
This is not to say that Zack Wheeler will dominate when he comes up the way Harvey has so far. However, it’s important to remember that fans were worried about Harvey nine months back just like they’re worried about Wheeler right now. It’s also important to note that while Harvey was pitching in Buffalo, Wheeler has been pitching in the notoriously hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Due to the league he’s in, Wheeler’s ERA and hits allowed will likely be negatively impacted. A prime example is a home run he gave up two starts ago. Off the bat, it looked like a harmless fly out to left. The left fielder parked under it, waiting for the ball to land in his glove. The ball didn’t come down in his glove. Instead, it sailed over the left field fence – what you call a PCL aided homer. Wheeler had a chuckle about it after the game.
Aside from pitching through the blister on his pitching hand while playing his games in the most hitter friendly league in the minors, Wheeler undoubtedly has his potential promotion on his mind. That’s a lot of stuff for a kid to deal with. Instead of being worried about four starts (two of which should be disregarded), Mets fans should be looking at the following:
- Wheeler’s stuff (that some scouts believe make him the best pitching prospect in baseball) is there. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with his explosive fastball or his secondaries. I’ve watched his starts. I promise the stuff is there.
- Wheeler’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an insanely high .373. Figure that to be a mixture of bad defense, bad luck, and the Pacific Coast League.
- Wheeler’s strikeout per 9 rate is 10.31. For comparison’s sake, his strikeout per 9 rates in AA and AAA last year were 9.08 and 8.45 respectively.
Yes, Wheeler is walking too many batters at the moment. Aside from that, there’s absolutely nothing to be even remotely concerned about. The kid is the goods.